Information Warfare: March 13, 2002


As part of the War on Terrorism, it's been proposed that only U.S. citizens be allowed to hold jobs involving management of government computer systems or Department of Defense research. This immediately raised the ugly fact that fewer and fewer Americans are willing to train for this work. In a trend that has been underway for several decades, more and more of the students studying computer science, and getting the degrees, are from foreign countries (mostly India, China and other Asian nations.) In the 1990s, 46 percent of the computer science degrees went to such foreign born students. It's not like the government has been ignorant of the problem. In 2001, the government provided 163,000 special H-1B visas to foreign technical experts, mostly computer specialists, to provide talent that was not available in the United States. If the "only American citizens" law goes into effect, productivity and security will decline, as there will be a much smaller pool of professionals to recruit from. Pay rates will have to be increased to attract Americans who would prefer to do some other work in the computer or networking field. There are already shortages of such specialists in the military, where pay scales and terms of service do not attract many trained people. Efforts by the military to train their own are not completely successful, particularly because those who do best at the training tend to get out of the service because of much better pay in the commercial sector. Put another way, obtaining these kinds of specialists requires attracting people with a knack for it and who are willing to do the hard work required. Many Americans have the knack, but fewer and fewer are willing to take on the workload engineering education requires. This is nothing new, as migrants have always been noted as harder working and more ambitious (on average) than native born folks. The migrants also tend to be as much, if not more, patriotic. None of this will change because of a new law. 


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